Monday, 26 June 2017

2017: The Coming US War with Iran.

'There is a geopolitical conflict with Washington and Tehran on opposing sides of the chessboard. Trump is risking war not to prevent the expansion of Iranian influence, but rather to eliminate it. Knowing this, Iran’s missile strikes were in part to send a message: “We will not allow Syria to leave our orbit for yours.”'
-Reza Marashi of the National Iranian-American Council.
The war in the Greater Middle East has continued throughout 2017. While Russia gained the decisive upper hand in Syria by late 2016 after crushing the Sunni rebel forces there, the US accelerated its military response in Iraq and north-east Syria in bombarding ISIS in Mosul up through into the capital of the Islamic State in Raqqa.

While the Western media focused on east Aleppo as a humanitarian tragedy and carried daily reports of men carrying injured and dead infants out of dusty and rubble strewn streets, there has been almost no mainstream media attention on the civilian casualties of the US campaign, despite the UN claiming that war crimes had been committed.

One reason is that the Western led cause is regarded as a just war because while Russia's hit Sunni jihadists rebranded as 'moderate rebels', the US is attacking an ISIS that supposedly is not a splinter group from the very same pool of Al Qaida affiliated groups that Russia was fighting. The double standards require Russia's enemy to be 'moderate'.

The civilian casualties of Trump's decision to 'let the generals off the leash', which increased by 60% in 2017, are not considered worthy of such media focus as east Aleppo was. But the shift has been reported in the mainstream US liberal media, probably because Trump is attacking it daily and because of the 'collusion with Russia' theory.

USA Today reported,

 'A British-based human rights monitoring group estimated Friday that U.S.-led coalition strikes had killed almost 500 civilians in the past month —more than any month since... U.S. bombing began. A United Nations commission of inquiry concluded that coalition airstrikes have caused a "staggering loss of civilian life." The carnage is sufficiently embarrassing that "the Pentagon will no longer acknowledge when its own aircraft are responsible for civilian casualty incidents," Micah Zenko of the Council of Foreign Relations recently noted. U.S.-led forces are reportedly bombarding the besieged city of Raqqa with white phosphorous, a munition that burns intensely and is prohibited by international law from use against civilians'.

The increased bombardment is about Trump being able to pose as strongman alternative to the weak Obama. The second purpose is to build on the renewed affirmation of Saudi Arabia's status as first ally in the region that was witnessed at the May Riyadh Summit, where Trump accused regional rival Iran supporting 'terrorism'.

This was followed by President Trump supporting Saudi Arabia's declaration of diplomatic warfare and blockade on the tiny gas rich emirate. One he tweeted was about Qatar's support for 'terrorism' and 'extremism'. 'Extremism' tends to mean any violent military group that does not fit in which US geopolitical interests while 'moderates' do.

The Qatar-Saudi Crisis: Fears of a Qatari Tilt Towards Tehran.

The Saudi ultimatum to Qatar is of a piece with the scaling up of US military action in eastern Syria throughout June 2017 against Iranian backed forces and those of Assad. The Saudis have every interest in ratcheting up the pressure on Qatar as the crisis broke after Doha and Tehran decided to develop new Persian Gulf gas reserves.

This has incensed Saudi Arabia because Qatar put a moratorium in 2005 on developing the North field that it shares with Iran, which calls it the South Pars. Even before this, Qatar had been unwilling to supply its GCC neighbours with gas or to develop the field to supply them with discount price gas. It lifted that moratorium in April 2017.

The issue at stake is whether Qatar lifting it is connected to a geopolitical 'tilt' towards Tehran in co-operating with the development of South Pars. Contacts and talks between the two countries geared at boosting cooperation in gas exploration and production have occurred before when Rouhani was elected in 2013.

The moderate Rouhani was elected again in May 2017. Saudi Arabia fears that Qatari independence, based on its gas wealth, could lead to it taking over as a rival pole of regional power and thus act as a growing threat to Saudi led GCC hegemony, not least when set against the background of Iranian ascendancy in Syria and Iraq.

The lifting of the self-imposed ban came as Iran's extraction rates caught up with Qatar's and created a fear that Qatar had bended to Iran's concerns before in not developing the fields while under US sanctions and without the ability to draw on Western expertise to develop them. The Obama nuclear deal ended those sanctions in 2014.

Instead of pursuing nuclear power, the compensatory benefit was that corporations such as Total moved in to help Iran develop its South Pars gas fields. Given that Qatar was non-committal towards the GCC states and had rivalled them for dominance over the Sunni rebels in Syria until 2014, their defeat has led to Qatar dropping their cause.

Turkey, which is aligned in a rival Sunni axis with Doha, realigned towards Russia in Syria to balance itself between a German dominated EU critical of his consolidation of domestic powers and shift towards authoritarian rule on the Putin model in Moscow. Qatar balanced Turkish support with realigning towards Tehran against Riyadh.

The Saudis and other GCC states ranged against Iran have feared Qatar's support for Islamist groups in the region could lead to disaffected Shias rising up, as was clear in Bahrain back in 2012 after the Arab Spring broke out. They have also failed to contain Houthi forces in Yemen since 2015 which they regard as an Iranian front.

Hizbollah and Prospect of Third Lebanon War.

Hizbollah has been active in Yemen and in the clashes in eastern Syria. Nasrallah has already boasted that after defeating ISIS it could send 'hundreds of thousands' of Shia Islamist fighters to Southern Lebanon if war were to break out between it and Israel. A Third Lebanon War could break out in the summer of 2017.

Tensions have been ready to boil over throughout the course of 2017 as Trump has swung wholly behind Netanyahu's right wing Likud government while Obama had had frosty relations with Tel Aviv. Israel's position towards the Syrian conflict was hostile both to Iran's for backing Hizbollah and towards Qatar for backing the Muslim Brotherhood.

Israel's stance was that the Sunni-Shia conflict was its problem: it had advantages in splitting the Islamist threat between Shia Hizbollah and Sunni Hamas and its attitude is quite similar to Henry Kissinger's during the Iraq-Iran War when he opined 'it's a pity they can't both lose'. But with Iranian backed forces ascendant, tensions have risen.

One reason seldom mentioned is the scramble to control the offshore gas fields off Israel and Lebanon which straddle the maritime borders and, of course, Southern Lebanon where Hizbollah has its power base. The US had previously mediated to prevent disputes over Eastern Mediterranean breaking out, but not now.

Israel could well see a US military push back again Iran in the region as a pretext for launching a Third Lebanon War to secure these gas reserves and destroy Hizbollah's rocket stocks, as well as to degrade its military out of fear it could grow as a disproportionate threat as Shia fighters refocus upon Israel with ISIS defeated.

The US-Saudi Fear of Russo-Iranian Regional Hegemony

The Hizbollah 'threat' to Israel and Yemen, in addition to the US fear of a land bridge opening up between eastern Syria, Iraq and Iran is one factor behind the escalation of US backed forces and fighters in that region. The Caliphate is crumbling and the Saudis are more concerned with Iranian and Qatari regional 'terrorism'.

The prestige and regional power of the Gulf States would come under threat from the construction of a 'Shia Crescent' stretching from Tehran through to the Eastern Mediterranean. For Charles Krauthammer, writing in the Washington Post, this crystallises the new civilizational threat of Russo-Iranian hegemony.

'Arrayed on the other side of the great Muslim civil war are the Sunnis, moderate and Western-allied, led by Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, Egypt and Jordan — with their Great Power patron, the United States, now (post-Obama) back in action. As the Islamic State is driven out of Mosul, Iranian-controlled militias are taking over crucial roads and other strategic assets in western Iraq. Next target: eastern Syria (Raqqa and environs).'

Krauthammer conflates the GCC states with 'moderates', as if to imply the 'extremists' were on the Iranian side and that the Sunni forces that lost in the course of 2015 were heroic democrats rather than jihadi militias. some aligned with Al Qaeda. Saudi Arabia is a leading exporter of  jihadi-salafist ideology of the sort that spawned IS.

Krauthammer claims Russia would be the 'outside hegemon' and Iran is in 'an alliance' with it. However, Iran has quite different ambition that Russia in Syria. One ambition behind Putin's military intervention was to block off a Persian Gulf gas pipeline between it and the Eastern Mediterranean either a rival Qatari or Iranian one.

The next part is the usual shifting op-ed line designed to justify US military intervention : 'The Iranian-Russian strategy is a nightmare for the entire Sunni Middle East. And for us, too. The Pentagon seems bent on preventing it. Hence the Tomahawk attack for crossing the chemical red line. Hence the recent fighter-bomber shootdown'.

What's interesting about Krauthammer's propaganda is that the Great Power political basis for the Tomahawk attack is admitted as being in reality about power political games rather than out of any humanitarian concern for the victims of any chemical weapons attack or actually establishing the truth as to what exactly happened.

The idea Russia and Iran are colluding to prevent the US plan for cantonisation of Syria as part of a peace plan is fiction. It was actually Russia that proposed this after the US in April 2017 used the alleged gas attack and dead infants propaganda asset as a pretext to fire the Tomahawks and place the US back as a player on the Syrian chessboard.

The loss of the Sunni jihadist groups in Syria in east Aleppo in December 2016 was a blow for Saudi prestige. The GCC alliance is feeling humiliated and has every interest in the US being lulled into a clash with Iran. Trump has failed to offset Saudi aggression by tilting towards Tehran as Obama did in order to defeat ISIS and rein in Riyadh.

Trump's staunch support for the Saudis saw him fall right into the trap they set for him in placing his credibility solely on support for an Arab NATO and leaning towards them and Egypt rather than the rival Turkey-Qatar axis. As Qatar leant towards Iran, and with Assad ascendant in Syria, Trump's administration is targeting Iran.

Despite the contradictory statements to those of Trump emanating from Tillerson and Mattis, in their determination to balance support for Riyadh with acting as honest brokers over its unfortunate diplomatic war with Doha, the Trump administration is unified in regarding the degradation of Iranian regional power as a major ambition.

At present, American foreign policy looks in disarray but Trump's administration is not prepared to have Iran determine any post-ISIS political settlement and, more disturbing, it seems utterly uninterested in engaging in diplomacy with Iran. This has led Iranian diplomats to question whether the nuclear agreement would last.

The Shift Towards a Regime Change Stance Towards Iran.

A US War with Iran in the summer of 2017 is a developing prospect. Russia remains a power it can do nothing about in Syria but it would be in a stronger position vis-à-vis Moscow if Tehran's regional power was diminished and it could try military strikes and support for the MeK as means to do so and promote 'regime change'.

Certain strategic analysts have seen parallels to Trump's approach and that in the run up to the Iraq War in 2003. Additional sanctions are being pushed through on Iran. Tillerson called in words for regime change', though 'peaceful'. MeK spokesmen are being courted in Washington warning of Iran's ballistic missile sites.

MeK supported Iraqi forces in the Iran-Iraq War and carried out terrorist attacks inside Iran. It's on and off the list of official terrorist groups according to geopolitical circumstances. They are a well funded lobby group supported by the US which hosts speakers from the US political establishment and themselves in Washington.

Rex Tillerson in front of a Senate Foreign Relations Committee proclaimed 'Our policy towards Iran is to push back on this hegemony, contain their ability to develop obviously nuclear weapons, and to work toward support of those elements inside of Iran that would lead to a peaceful transition of that government'.

While Tillerson has sought to reassure Qatar that the US stands by it, with the State Department even criticising the Saudi ultimatum, Trump has tweeted continuous criticisms of Doha's support for 'terrorism' to show Israel and Saudi Arabia that there is no shade of grey between Islamist terrorism on the one hand and them on the other.

This has been seen as evidence of a polycratic chaos within the US stimulated by Trump's administration and bungling amateur approach to world politics. But while there are contradictions and mixed signals, the idea the US is being 'sucked' into eastern Syria is facile. It's part of Trump's military first approach to power politics.

This was apparent from Michael Flynn's comment, as Trump came to power, that Iran was being 'put on notice'. Trump let the generals 'off the leash' so that they could bomb their way to victory and to smash ISIS in northern Iraq the way Russia and Assad crushed the Sunni rebels. Once destroyed, then Iran's militias would be next.

There is consistency in having Iran portrayed as the 'new threat' because, prior to Trump taking over in January 2017, the US had been humiliated over Syria. Obama's policy was in ruins as east Aleppo fell and the aim under Trump has been to reposition the US under him as credible heavyweight player prepared to wage absolute war.

Given that it cannot go to war with Russia in Syria, targeting Iran offers a way of reuniting the Gulf States together under a US aegis and to prove the value of the strategic partnerships. Meanwhile, Iran can be portrayed as the rogue state trying to draw Qatar into its orbit and destabilise the Middle East by its actions and 'threats'.

Any war with Iran would be portrayed as a result of 'Iranian aggression', of a new 'terrorist threat' emerging to take over from ISIS and being sponsored by Iran in every country in the region. The Saudis under the new Crown Prince Salman are already gloating about their ability to 'reach inside' Iran ( hint: through terrorist attacks).

The provocation is about forcing Iran to overstep the mark so that the US then would have a pretext to act against it in defence of both Israel and the Gulf States. Riyadh appears to be trying to push this, while flattering Trump's ego as a Great Leader. Analysts even think the stepping up of  military action in eastern Syria is designed to do this.

Trita Parsi refers to the 'explosive'. circumstances in the Greater Middle East 'An impression is given that this is an accidental escalation, but I'm not sure. Look at the totality of the Trump administration's statements on Iran – sanctions, hints of regime change, no diplomacy … these were the ingredients of the Iraq war.'

A War with Iran as 'Escape Forwards' for the US and Britain.

The war with Iran could be triggered in tandem with a Third Lebanon War between Israel and Hizbollah , clashes in eastern Syria, and the tilt of Qatar towards Iran being portrayed as yet more Iranian plots to break up the unity and regional hegemony of the Gulf States in partnership with the US and United Kingdom.

A full scale crisis could break out in July and then there would be in Britain the controversy whether to align with the US as a time of domestic political turbulence within over Brexit. May is weak and backed by the DUP in Northern Ireland, a party of Christian-Zionists who extol Israel as a Chosen State and People like their own.

Foreign Secretary Johnson visited Israel in February and concurred with Netanyahu's concern over Iran's ballistic missile capability. Already it has fired them in June 2017 against targets in eastern Syria that the Western media has doubted were 'terrorist'. If the US started a move to war, Johnson would support Washington.

Johnson's a right wing populist emulating Trump's readiness to do and say whatever's necessary for power. He had criticised Trump consistently for his demagoguery only to do a U turn after he became President, to praise his 'exciting agenda' and claim the special relationship was bigger that the particular PM and President.

One benefit of an Iranian threat and British military intervention would be to seal the US-UK partnership and for the Tories to be able to portray Corbyn as both unpatriotic defender of Sinn Fein, sympathiser with Hizbollah and Iran and to split the PLP over whether to align behind its US partner or to betray the 'special relationship'.

Into this renewed and fired up cultural warfare would come Michael Gove, who's returned back to the Cabinet and regards Iran as a 'mountain fortress of terror' and part of a global 'seamless totalitarian movement'. In late 2016, as east Aleppo fell, he castigated British 'appeasers' of Iran as 'Iran is Smiling at the Blood Spilt in Syria'.

Gove's neoconservative ideological fanaticism is a clear indication of where the Conservative Party hierarchy is as regards Syria and Iran. Gove is a close ally of Boris Johnson over the Leave campaign and a staunch Atlanticist of like-minded view to the Foreign Secretary and Dr Liam Fox.

Gove neatly encapsulates one Anglo-American worldview.

'For the Iranian regime, the West’s agreement to a nuclear deal was another sign of weakness, irresolution and short-termism. Iran will be free from any constraint after 15 years, and indeed it can prepare for the rapid acquisition of nuclear capability well before then. And all the time it can use, and has used, western danegeld to build up the armed forces now merrily slaughtering Syrian civilians...I strongly support any action to counter Iran’s advance and help Syria’s innocents but I fear that the moment of greatest opportunity passed in 2013. If Iran now wins its war in Syria it will turn its attentions more widely. It is already supporting the Houthi takeover of Yemen, fomenting unrest in majority-Shia Bahrain, funding Islamic State’s offshoot in the Sinai, extending its hold over Iraq’s political culture and seeking to radicalise Shia minorities in other states such as Saudi Arabia. Iran has rekindled its relationship with Hamas and will deploy Hezbollah to terrorise Israel from the bases that it will shortly control on the Lebanese and Syrian borders.”

Gove is a friend of media magnate Rupert Murdoch who lauded the Iraq invasion as one that would ensure petrol prices would go down and so would be as popular as a tax cut. He is also a middle man between both of them and President Trump. This, and the bid for Murdoch to re-take control over SKY News, would help war propaganda.

Gove is Environment Secretary but he is also a potential leadership contender for becoming the next PM should a weak May fall. She would need to defer to his views as well as those of Johnson, another contender who has considered himself to have 'The Churchill Factor', so much so that he wrote a book about his projected alter ego.

Britain is also toxically dependent upon the Saudi 'security partnership' after Brexit as a market for lucrative BAE arms deals and London as an investment destination for recycled petro-currency. Projecting the 'terror threat' on to Iran would deflect attention from the domestic failure to prevent jihadi-terrorist attacks in 2017.

The suppression of the 2015 government commissioned report into Saudi funding for jihadi ideology in British mosques, for containing material 'too sensitive', led to Corbyn demanding its publication. Being able to portray Corbyn as 'enemy within' for opposing war with Iran would be useful in upholding the sanctity of the national security state.

Donald Trump is likewise besieged by sniping critics trying to use his alleged Russian connection during his Presidential campaign as a pretext to impugn his patriotism and thus bring down a President who humiliated Republican contenders and Hillary Clinton, indeed, the entire Washington establishment by winning against them.

The only moment so far when the Washington establishment rallied round Trump was when he fired the Tomahawk missiles against Assad's airbase. A war with Iran is one of the few ways in which he could unite both Republican and Democrat politicians who have otherwise regarded him as pro-Russian as it's aligned with Iran over Syria.

Both the US and UK governments are threatened at home by enemies. Both contain 'patriots' ready to see military action as a way to 'escape forwards' and portray internal opponents and the hostile media as 'enemies within' and 'unpatriotic'. This was one of the reasons why the Great Powers blundered towards war in Europe in 1914.

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